By Peter K. Burian
It's not difficult to get nice photos outdoors, with or without flash, in daylight conditions. But for beautiful images at night, or in very dark locations like museums, the techniques differ.
Here's why. No flash unit can illuminate the entire scene. And when flash is not used, the shutter speed may be very long, perhaps several seconds. Then, even the best image stabilizer system cannot prevent photos that are blurred by camera shake. The best solution is to use a large, rigid tripod for maximum stability.
It would be ideal to always use a large, rock steady tripod when shooting in dark locations. That was not possible at the spectacular Notre Dame cathedral (in Montreal, Canada) for example, so I relied on the other techniques to make blur-free photos. (Handheld; ISO 1600; 1/13 sec.) Photo: Peter K. Burian
But in the real world, it's rarely that simple. For example, you will not always be carrying a hefty tripod and it wouldn't be practical to use on a busy urban street. As well, many venues prohibit the use of that accessory because it gets in the way of other visitors. In either case, different strategies will be necessary. Start by setting the camera's Flash mode to Off and try the following.
- Use a small support accessory: In some locations you may be allowed to use mini or table-top tripod, or a Gorillapod (see http://joby.com/gorillapod); such accessories are compact and are convenient to carry when traveling. The small device may not provide maximum stability however, so also consider the next two tips.
- Set a High ISO: When shooting in low light without a tripod, you'll need to use a high ISO to get a nice, bright photo at a fast shutter speed. Most cameras will not set such a high level with Auto ISO, so you'll need to do so yourself. Start with ISO 1600. If the shutter speed is still longer than about 1/30 sec. when using the kit zoom lens, try ISO 3200. (When the camera is on a small support device, but you're not sure that's its fully stable, ISO 800 may provide an adequately fast shutter speed of 1/10 sec.)
- Take some insurance shots. Any time you're not absolutely certain that you can totally avoid problems caused by camera shake, try this. Make sure the image stabilizer is on. Set the Drive mode to Continuous and take three shots of the scene in a single burst. Typically, the second or third will be the technically best.
- Peter Burian teaches two these online photo workshops at BetterPhoto's digital photography school - Mastering the Digital Camera and Photography and Mastering the Canon EOS Digital Rebels. - In addition, Peter is one of the contributors to two new books co-authored by Jim Miotke and Kerry Drager: the just-published The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and the upcoming The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (publication date: April 2012).